A ponderous, tortuous debut novel relates a family’s sad breakup after a young psychiatrist is imprisoned for stealing the medications he’s become addicted to.
Saul Dubinsky, a doctor deeply shaken by a patient’s attempted suicide, is abruptly arrested in the middle of the night from his and his wife Rena’s Manhattan apartment. Stunned and unprepared, Rena and Saul’s father, Leonard, scramble to find a lawyer and to make sense of Saul’s attempt to steal from his hospital’s pharmacy, even though they’d seen clues of Saul’s increasingly desperate addiction before his arrest. Leonard, who was also a psychiatrist but left his practice to become a writer after the troubling suicide of a patient two decades before, proves the most loyal family member, though he is unable to persuade Saul’s mother, a 30-year bedridden hypochondriac, to allow them to put their New Jersey house up for collateral to meet Saul’s bail. Rena, on the other hand, who works for various political campaigns, can’t transcend the breach of trust involved, and by adulterous degrees breaks from the marriage. In alternating voices, the stories of these two main characters unfold: Rena’s unstable family past and shaky future; and Leonard’s devotion not only to Saul (whom he addresses in the second person) but to the wife he has grown emotionally estranged from. Added to fairly monotonous prose is the sin of many a first-novelist, leaving nothing out, with the result that the tale meanders aimlessly as Rena takes off to Guatemala to retrieve the body of a disappeared son of a dear friend of Saul’s. Storywriter and psychologist Gornick seems unsure how to tie up her convoluted saga, and Rena’s ultimate decision to have a baby with Saul, despite his languishing for four years in prison and their purported breakup, underscores still unresolved dramatic and narrative tensions.
Wanted: a tighter story with more selective detail and, hence, greater effect.